EL PASO, Texas — The metal giant’s arm reached out and grabbed a blue, two-door sedan with its six-foot long hydraulic metal fingers, raised it up as high as the street lights and then dropped it letting it crash on the asphalt below.
Half a dozen junked cars waited for destruction inside a circle of steel barriers blocking off a section of downtown at Oregon and Mills St. at this year’s Chalk the Block art festival, The cleverly named Hand of Man was one of the main attractions, stopping crowds in their tracks as pieces of broken plastic and car hoses shot out at the feet of on-lookers.
Crew-member Nathan Oswald explained that artist and creator Christian Ristow, “…wanted to be able to build something participatory.” Unlike many art pieces, the idea behind this installation, Oswald said, is to be something fun for the crowd to become a part of.
Mario Castillo won a chance to control and set the sculpture in motion, through a local radio station’s call-in contest. “At first it was kind of weird because they are too sensitive when you move them around,” Castillo said. After tinkering around with the controls, Castillo said “I got the hang of it and was able to pick up the car.”
Ben Fyffe, the Arts and Education Program Coordinator for the Museums and Cultural Affairs Department, said “This year we have artists coming in from the Burning Man festival… we have aerialists in from Taos, New Mexico; we also have over 60 local artists involved in the festival.” Fyffe stood under a canopy providing shade next to the El Paso Museum of Art, where many of the artists began working on their chalk art pieces Friday evening.
A two minute walk from the Hand of Man instillation, passed the many vendors and posters strung up from tree to tree, each with their own unique message protesting the violence in Juarez, Mexico was the open area where artists turned sidewalk into canvas.
“Chalk events happen all over the country. In Texas there’s another event in San Antonio and within three years we are actually rivaling them in terms of the audience draw,” Fyffe said.
Crowds gathered early the first day of the festival. As parents snapped pictures with their smart phones, children walked cautiously between the different artists workspaces sectioned off with blue tape. The Beatles, Eleanor Rigby played on a radio as artists sprawled across red brick, some on knee pads. Others placed pillows and dishtowels between their bodies and the cold ground as they worked into the late evening.
San Antonio artist Heidi Myklebust’s chalked a giraffe with two piercings in each ear, playfully sticking out its tongue with three piercings straight down the middle. “It was a piece I had already done and I thought it was appropriate for the event,” Myklebust said and explained that artists have an urge to step away from the normal to do something out of character. Myklebust’s pierced giraffe was set in front of a strong blue flower-petal styled backdrop.
The kung fu inspired piece by El Paso artist Anastacio Rivera, 26, used pastel purples, blues and greens to express a complex idea of human flight and motion. “I started off with human models, and they basically posed for me in different positions. It’s a human going through the range of motion… the roots and the crown are pretty organic and chaotic; a free flow interpretation” Rivera said softly.
Two well-known El Paso residents showed up to support the art as the first night of the event came to a close.
Jim Ward, El Paso musician and front man/guitarist for At The Drive-In, Sparta and most recently Sleeper Car strolled slowly past the floors filled with artwork, speaking briefly with several of the artists in the process. “Everything we can do to stretch the limits of what we do creatively, and to push those limits, and to make us work harder to make things more creative, and more beautiful, and more wonderful for this town is a good thing,” Ward said.
“It’s just a really cool thing; it’s a good venue for the artists. I’m going to come back every day to see how they evolve,” said renowned El Paso artist Hal Marcus. “It’s kind of a new form of entertainment; you know it’s very creative.”